By JOLEEN TADEJ
A unique partnership between Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks and the Flathead Basin Commission is helping promote the use of new weapons in the war against aquatic invasive species.
But these weapons have four legs and a keen sense of smell.
Working dogs trained to sniff out quagga and zebra mussels will be used to help inspectors at two FWP inspection stations in northwest Montana this summer. The mussels are the biggest concern for state AIS officials, due to the destruction they can cause fisheries, recreation and agriculture and municipal water supplies.
The K-9 inspection teams are only searching for the presence of mussels, not aquatic vegetation, drugs or any potential contraband. The funding to use the dogs was secured by the FBC from Conoco Phillips/National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. The dogs are trained by Working Dogs for Conservation.
The partnership between the FBC and FWP is long standing in northwest Montana. The dogs will be working at two FWP inspection stations, and three others operated by other agencies in the area.
The effort to keep AIS from invading Montana’s waters kicks into high gear in the summer time as FWP operates 17 AIS inspection stations around the state from mid-May through Labor Day. Montana law dictates that all people with watercraft stop at inspection stations they pass. By law, watercraft includes a variety of vessels, including motorboats, paddleboard, kayaks, rafts, driftboats, and float tubes.
The key to preventing the spread of AIS is to clean, drain and dry your watercraft after each use. This means to clean the vessel of all vegetation and material collected from use in the waterbody; drain all water from the watercraft, including live wells and bilges and remove your plugs; and make sure to provide adequate time to thoroughly dry the watercraft before launching it in a new waterbody.
Though AIS inspection stations are important in the fight against the spread of AIS in Montana, recreationists must take the responsibility to practice clean, drain and dry techniques whether they are going to pass an inspection station or not.
The K-9 inspection teams will work in concert with other inspectors and if mussels are detected, the dog will sit and focus on the spot of the detection until released by the handler. The public is encouraged to observe the dogs operate, but not to interact with the dogs unless it is approved by their handler.
“Our K-9 detection teams provide us another great tool in the fight against AIS,” said Tom Boos, AIS coordinator with FWP. “We’re happy to provide a place for these teams to work.”